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Pope Francis delivered the speech in Florence insisting the Catholic Church should have nothing to do with power, prestige and economic benefits. Instead it should be focusing on reaching out to people, especially those most in need.
The main theme for Tuesday address was as symbolic as the place he was visiting. Early in the day Francis went to the industrial town of Prato near Florence, which is plagued by uncontrolled labor migration and poor working conditions.
The Pope outlined his vision for the Catholic Church in a lengthy speech before a convention of Italian bishops who gathered in Florence and social issues would dominate his agenda.
“I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he said, as cited by Reuters. The Church should also be “restless, always closer to the abandoned ones, the forgotten ones, the imperfect ones,” he added.
“May God protect the Italian church from every pretense of power, image and money,” he told the bishops. He further stressed Christians should not be obsessed with such influence “even when it takes the shape of a power that is useful to the social image of the church.”
The Pope’s visit to Florence comes amid an internal scandal at the Vatican caused by leaks of confidential documents exposing the backlash by the Italian-dominated Vatican’s bureaucracy against Francis’ pushes for reform. The papers shed light on the mismanagement of assets and the resistance to change from the Holy See’s old guard.
His attempted reforms at the Vatican include an effort to bring more financial transparency to the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the Vatican Bank. There have been long-standing allegations of money laundering and improper handling of financial assets. In 2013 a senior Italian cleric was arrested under the suspicion of trying to move €20 million ($21.4 million) illegally.
The pontiff said the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” while adding in an interview that the “Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal Church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
The Pope has been praised for his simple and direct language. Speaking in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, he said the Church must go out onto the streets, or it would become an NGO. “And the Church cannot become an NGO,” he added. “People today are attracted by things that are faster and faster, rapid internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships.”
The first non-European Pope in almost 1,300 years, Francis, who hails from Argentina, is widely known for his standing towards issues of interfaith dialogue, concern for the poor and social rights while maintaining traditional views of the Catholic Church on abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and priests’ celibacy.